Friday, May 28, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Pen-accosted

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Last Sunday was Pentecost. Did you wear red? Did you hear the reading from the Acts of the Apostles in different languages?

Did you know that it was a major Christian Holy Day?

Pentecost, for Christians, marks of course the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in a tremendous wind. In its aftermath, each apostle had what appeared to be flames resting upon them, and they were able to communicate with the vast throng of people from around the known world, each in their own language.

We call Pentecost the birthday of the church. It was from this moment that the apostles gained the strength, the direction, the power they needed to begin their mission without the physical presence of Jesus. They were now the church, and they knew what they had to do – proclaim the good news of God’s love through Jesus to all the world.

One of the tragedies of something like Pentecost, I believe, is that a lot of people misunderstood its significance. Like the Great Commission that Jesus gave in Matthew’s gospel, they hear the command to spread the gospel everywhere.

That’s all to the good.

But it has ever been a human tendency to believe that, if others don’t see things your way, there’s something wrong with them. There’s also a human tendency to try to make others see things your way – or else. Unfortunately for the gospel – the Good News – too many Christians set out to convert the world and somewhere along the route decided that if they couldn’t do it by argument, they would do it by force.

This is nothing unique to Christians, mind you. Many religions – as well as other ideologies – have attempted to force their way of life upon others. Some, more subtly, don’t use physical force but threats. Problem is, although these methods can indeed get people to get baptized and even say the right things, they do little for spreading the message of God’s love. Too often, those who convert do so out of duress or fear rather than any real love.

That was a long time ago, though, right? I don’t know. I think there are a lot of people who still try to threaten others into belief. Just the threat of eternal punishment is enough for many. But is that the method Jesus would like from us? Would Jesus really want fearful or even resentful followers or those who are attracted to his love?

I only bring this up as a way of suggesting that now and then it’s good for us who are Christian to examine exactly what message – what approach – we employ. Do we use threats, even subtle threats or do we simply love?

Pentecost is the birth of the church, but with this celebration, we are accosted by, confronted with the fact that we have not always used the power granted us wisely or lovingly. So this time around, maybe we Christians can use the season of Pentecost to consider whether the news we bring is good … or not.